Whether you're new to the world of exercise or well on your way to stardom, you'll have heard of protein supplements – particularly protein shakes. But how effective are they, and how do they work if you consume them after you exercise?
Let's start by looking at the theory behind it. Resistance training – which is any exercise that involves your muscles contracting against an external resistance (things like dumbbells, your own body weight, even a bag of sand) – works by increasing the amino acid delivery to your muscles, as well as the rate of absorption. If you add extra protein after exercise, it can stimulate extra protein synthesis which leads to added strength and lean body mass. Basically exercise followed by protein equals more muscle.
Or so the theory goes. The problem is that many studies show it has no effect – and many studies show it does. So what does this mean? An analysis of a few studies notes that it does indeed lead to increased muscle strength and lead body mass – it's just unclear as to whether it's timing or amount that matters more.
When should you be taking supplements – should you be organising your workout time around them? You may have heard 20 minutes, but the effects last for at least 24 hours – and possibly 48! There will be diminishing returns, but don't force yourself to take one straight after. You can cool off, have a shower, and even go home before taking a supplement, and it will still have the desired effect. It's not just after either – you could eat a couple of hours before – it's been proven to work just as well! The only downside is it can be unpleasant to eat before a workout, hence people favouring afterwards.